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Moving Your I.T. And Data Into the Cloud

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Our scribe explains the practical pros and cons of cloud computing, while our artiste tells the same tale as an epic quest for the holy grail of computer nirvana

     An often told tale of good vs. evil in which dark forces torch
     the merchant's servers.
    
Illustrations by Andrew J. Catanzariti

 

Arnold Domingo, operations manager of HawaiiPrint, a graphics and textile printing service in Honolulu, was trying to do a physical inventory of company assets and accounts several years ago. 

He was using Quickbooks software on one of the company’s internal computers, “When all of a sudden it froze on me. I lost everything I was working on.”

He contacted Jacob Petrosky of Honolulu’s Digitech Solutions, who essentially advised Domingo and his company to move into the “cloud” – to put all their data and information-technology operations into a remote server with enough computing strength and backup to make such a crash much less likely.

“Basically, it has been awesome,” says Domingo. “For instance, we have an outside CPA and, previously, when they worked with us, they had to come into our offices and get on to one of our computers. Now they can do their work from anywhere.”

Many other local companies have also abandoned their own servers and signed up with cloud-computing companies. The benefits are numerous. For instance, Domingo says, when he travels, he can instantaneously write checks, get stock status or do whatever work needs to be done from wherever he is. In the past, he often had to wait until he got back to the office to do the work.

     The merchant seeks the counsel of the Wizard of I.T.
    
The Wizard of I.T., seeing the storekeeper fleeing with his
     counting machines, advised him: You must store your scrolls
     and other valuables in yonder cloud. Up there, your ledgers
     and histories will be safe from wind and rain, and we will
     transcribe copies, so that nothing will be lost.””

In effect, HawaiiPrint’s entire IT world has left its offices and lives in a bank of supercooled Cisco servers in a secure building on Bishop Street in downtown Honolulu. That’s where Petrosky maintains his “cloud.” But Petrosky, who initially dipped into the computing world when his brother got a first-generation Tandy computer from Radio Shack, is the first to admit that cloud computing is not for everyone.

There are, he says, issues of security, cost and even legal implications. But, when it makes sense, companies – particularly small and mid-size firms – can reap huge benefits.

With the economy struggling, he says, “People want to close their offices. Rent is high. So we take the server out of their office, virtualize it and put it on our servers. Then they can work from home or wherever.”

Cloud computing, Petrosky says, is “kind of a funny buzzword,” since people have almost always have had some kind of access to remote computing. If you’ve ever used Google or one of the Internet mail services such as Yahoo, you have been in one kind of cloud or another. But, today, a growing number of companies are putting more and more of their computer files and software in the cloud instead of in servers somewhere in their building. That cloud might be in Hawaii, or somewhere on the Mainland or in multiple places.

     Ye Cloud Can Be a Mighty Fortress Against Demons
    
But you must always have a broad beanstalk of Internet
     bandwidth to reach the cloud and your treasures within.
     And though strong and secure, no fortress cloud is always
     invincible if the Hacker Army dragons target you.

Getting a handle on the overall value and growth of cloud computing, whether in Hawaii or nationally, is difficult.

One study by Merrill Lynch suggested the cloud-computing market would reach $160 billion by the end of this year. Others peg the figures lower; whatever number is correct, much of the spending is not new, simply money shifted from more traditional technology.

Despite the terminology, Petrosky says, the cloud is practical, not magical. “All we have, really, is redundant power, our servers are ice cold and we have high security and excellent Internet access,” he says. And there are always plenty of backups.

For a host of reasons, cloud computing is taking off. In fact, Petrosky’s landlord, Wavecom Solutions, which provides space and facilities to Digitech, is moving into the cloud-computing business itself with a product called WaveFlex, which will operate secured data centers on Oahu and the Big Island.

Bob Teague, head of marketing for Wavecom Solutions, says the company recently moved into cloud computing services that range from raw hosting to offering, maintaining and refreshing the latest software. No more tearing the shrink-wrap off the software box and figuring out how to install it on the office computer.

If a business were not connected to a fairly robust Internet service, it would have to do so before migrating to the cloud, Teague says. A dedicated line might be necessary. The cloud’s “Achilles Heel” is the network, Teague says. It has to be on, ready and fast around the clock. That’s one reason Wavecom has a server station at remote Kawaihae on the Big Island, where a powerful fiber optic cable comes ashore.

 Teague understands the misgivings of some businesses. “A lot of companies don’t want to put mission-critical data into a (public) cloud,” he says. And while most cloud services can handle almost any software a business might want to use, it has to be of a “recent enough vintage” so that it can be virtualized on the company’s servers.

 

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